Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few days, you know that the latest scary thing to pop out of the news is the new swine flu bug from Mexico. It's scary because even though it's a swine flu virus, it is being passed from human to human. While none of the people infected in the United States have become seriously ill, around 100 people in Mexico (by the latest count I read) have died from respiratory ailments believed to possibly be related to the swine flu. The discrepancy is odd, and troubling.
It's possible that the people who have died in Mexico may have suffered from complications caused by air pollution. Mexico City is among the worst cities in the world as far as air quality goes. I'm not a scientist, and I don't even play one on TV, so I'm not going to speculate beyond that. But so far, we haven't seen any American fatalities yet.
Another troubling fact is that most of the victims so far have been in the prime of life, rather than the very young and the very old, who are normally the main victims of the flu. This follows the same sort of pattern which was seen in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-20, which killed tens of millions right after World War I. That particular virus caused a cytokine storm, where the body's immune system overreacts and attacks the body itself. That's a very, very scary comparison.
The other thing that's scary is that by the time cities and nations become aware that the virus is present and people are sick, it's already too late to avert a pandemic if the disease is virulent enough, because people are infected and contagious before they start to exhibit symptoms. Our magnificent transportation system immediately turns from boon to bane, moving infected people from one city, country or continent to another with ease at the speed of sound. You're going to see more and more cases reported, in more and more places, at an ever-increasing pace. We're just at the beginning of this situation. Don't panic, but stay alert.